Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Vilna Gaon, the Maggid, and the Work Ethic of a Talmid Chacham

[Interesting: Shana Tova Parking Tickets at Life in Israel]

[Note: "Maggid" in the title of this post refers to an angel who comes to teach a person Torah. It does not refer to an itinerant preacher.]

A friend led me to the passage below today, and I knew instantly that I needed to translate this for others to read. There is much to learn here; it comes from Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin's introduction to the Vilna Gaon's Safra d'Tzniuta, available at hebrewbooks.org here. I have appended the Hebrew at the bottom, but there is more to see in the original.

He [the Gaon of Vilna] did not gain satisfaction other than from the work he did in wisdom and intellect and ability and after much strain, when Heaven had mercy upon him and wellsprings of wisdom were revealed to him, secrets of secrets and hidden things inside hidden things, this was for him a gift of Gd. Other than this, he did not want them, even though the heavens wished to give him, without any work or exhaustion, celestial secrets via angelic messengers, masters of secrets and officers of Torah. He did not raise his eyes to this. It was close to him, and he distanced it. I heard from his sacred mouth that angelic messengers often rose early to his door, desiring to convey to him secrets of Torah without any work, and he did not turn his ear to them at all.

One of the angelic messengers pressed him greatly, but he did not look upon the angel's great appearance. He answered and told him, "I do not want my grasp of Gd's torah to come via any intermediary at all; my eyes are raised only to Him. That which He wishes to reveal to me and give me as my portion in His Torah for the work I have done with all of my energy, He will give me wisdom, from His mouth comes intellect and comprehension, when He gives me a comprehending heart…

And he said that although our master Rabbi Yosef Karo had an angelic messenger, that was two centuries ago, when the generations were proper, and he lived upon the holy land. It is not thus now, when there are many who break the barriers, and especially outside of the land it is impossible to be at the height of holiness, without any inappropriate element mixed in. Especially those revelations which come without Torah, his spirit was impatient with them and they were not significant to him at all.

לא הראה את נפשו טוב רק בעמלו אשר עמל בחכמה ובדעת ובכשרון ואחר רב יגיעותיו וכאשר חסו עליו מן השמים ונתגלו לו מעיינות החכמה רד"ר וסתרין דסתרין זו היה אצלו מתת אלקים וזולת זה נפשו לא רצה בם אף כי רצו למסור לו מן השמים בלא שום עמל ויגיעת בשר רזין וסתרין עליוני עליונין ע״י מגידים מארי דרזין ושרי התורה לא נשא עיניו לזה עמו היתה וריחקה כי שמעתי מפיו הק' שפעמים רבות השכימו לפתחו כמה מגידים מן השמים בשאלתם ובקשתם שרוצים למסור לו רזין דאורייתא בלא שום עמל ולא הטה אזנו אליהם כלל

וא' מן המגידים הפציר בו מאד עכ"ז לא הביט אל מראהו הגדול וענה ואמר לו איני רוצה שתהיה השגתי בתורתו ית״ש ע"י שום אמצעי כלל וכלל רק עיני נשואות לו ית״ש מה שרוצה לגלות לי וליתן חלקי בתורתו ית"ש בעמלי אשר עמלתי בכל כחי הוא ית"ש יתן לי חכמה מפיו דעת ותבונה שיתן לי לב מבין
ואמר אף כי מרן הב"י היה לו מגיד היה זה לפני ב' מאות שנה שהיו הדורות כתקנן והיה שרוי על אדמת הקדש לא כן עתה שרבו המתפרצים ובפרט בחו"ל א"א כלל שיהיה כלו קדש קדשים בלי שום עירוב כלל. ובפרט הגילויים אשר בלא תורה נפשו בחלה בהם ולא היו נחשבים אצלו כלל וכלל.


  1. And yet ...

    Ramchal also described having an angelic teacher, outside of Israel, only a few years before the Vilna Gaon. And the Vilna Gaon lamented the opportunity to have met Ramchal, saying he would have walked on foot from Vilna to Padua to have done so.

  2. At the end of his life the GRA started out on a pilgrimage to EretzYisrael but was forced to return because of ill health. If He had reached his destination perhaps atchalta degeulah would have started 200 yrs ago. The Aliya of talmidei haGra is often taken to be the beginning of modern Shivat Tzion.

  3. I was thinking about this post over Yom Kippur.

    "He did not gain satisfaction other than from the work he did... after much strain"

    So the Vilna Gaon was only happy when he worked and struggled to achieve. He didn't want anyone to just hand him the reward.

    But all day Yom Kippur, over and over, we are praying for a world where all the problems are solved, evil has vanished, Hashem rules over all, and we all have everything we want.

    Who would want that?

  4. Fenster-
    I hear. I am similarly bothered by the plea to "cleanse us of our sins, but not via suffering." By what right do we customize our atonement process?